Excel spreadsheet illustrating income difference between members with vs. without dependents
BASIC ALLOWANCE FOR HOUSING (BAH)
BAH accounts for $58,993 of the income gap between members with vs. without dependents.
The governing regulation for BAH is the Joint Travel Regulation (JTR), Chapter 10 and Appendix K.
As any financial advisor will attest, the key to building wealth is to start investing as early as possible. Due to the effects of compound interest, delaying an investment by just a few years has a tremendous, negative impact. The biggest investment most people make is buying a house. Members who have dependents when they join the military have the option to buy a house and start building equity upon reaching their first duty assignment. Not all choose to do so, but they have the freedom to make that choice. Enlisted service members without dependents do not have a choice. No matter how good they are at their job, no matter how responsible they prove themselves to be, even if they win awards and earn their degree before their married supervisor does, they are still required to live in the dorms. Denying them the opportunity to be homeowners decimates their wealth-building potential. The impact of that will follow them all the way to their retirement years, because once those years of not receiving BAH are gone, they’re gone, and there’s no catching up. By the time these members start receiving BAH, they are years behind their peers in terms of building equity and wealth.
Even when these members are allowed to move out of the dorms and start receiving BAH, it’s at a lower rate, so they continue to fall farther behind financially. Using the first 20 years of my career as a case study, the “without dependent” rate for BAH was, on average, $360 less per month than the “with dependent” rate. The justification for this is that a member with a dependent needs a bigger house. But is that always true? If a member is married, but does not have children, does that family really “need” a bigger house? No. They need a bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom, just like a member with no dependents.
BASIC ALLOWANCE FOR SUBSISTENCE (BAS)
BAS accounts for $8,562 of the income gap between members with vs. without dependents.
The governing regulation for BAS is the DoD Financial Management Regulation (FMR) 7000.14-R, Volume 7A, Chapter 25.
Many junior enlisted members without dependents are not eligible to receive BAS. (There are exceptions, such as when duties frequently preclude the member from using the dining facility.) The only way for these members to “break even” financially with those who receive BAS is to eat at the dining facility for every meal, every day, 365 days a year. Every time they buy groceries or eat at a restaurant, 100% of that money comes out of their base pay. For members who receive BAS, the entitlement certainly does not cover their monthly food expenses, but at least it helps. Furthermore, I do not know anyone, regardless of familial status, who would want to eat at the same place for every meal for years on end.
COST OF LIVING ALLOWANCE (COLA)
COLA accounts for $33,695 of the income gap between members with vs. without dependents.
The governing regulation for COLA is the JTR, Chapters 8 & 9 and Appendix J.
Again using my career as a case study, the partial rate for overseas COLA was, on average, $283 less per month than the full rate. This entitlement is particularly strange. Not only do members with dependents get the full rate, but so do officers without dependents. So the only members who get the smaller partial rate are those who have the smallest paychecks to start with. That makes no sense whatsoever. They are living in the same area and are affected by the same market factors as members with dependents. They do not get a discount on products and services because they do not have dependents.
FAMILY SEPARATION ALLOWANCE (FSA)
FSA accounts for $10,413 of the income gap between members with vs. without dependents.
The governing regulation for FSA is DoD FMR 7000.14-R, Volume 7A, Chapter 27.
This entitlement provides compensation for added expenses incurred because of an enforced family separation more than 30 days. Examples of added expenses include childcare, oil changes, lawn service, etc. Interestingly however, the Airman & Family Readiness Center offers coupons for free childcare and free oil changes, and it’s pretty common for neighbors or coworkers to help out by mowing the lawn at no cost. So members with dependents are being compensated for services they may not even be paying for. There’s no need to prove that increased expenses actually happened because they are compensated proactively “just in case”.
By contrast, a member without dependents can’t get financial relief even if they have hard evidence proving that increased expenses were actually incurred. For example, during my first deployment to Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, a friend was checking on my house periodically. On one visit, he discovered a water leak. It was a slow leak, but it had been going on long enough to flood the kitchen. Had I been home, the leak would have been discovered early, and damage would have been minimal. As it was, however, the flooring and cabinets were ruined. Repairs cost over $2,000. I had photographs and receipts to prove what happened and how much it cost. So what office did I go to?... What program did I take advantage of to seek financial relief?... None. No such office or program exists. Even if there was, it would still be discrimination if members with dependents are compensated proactively while members without have to provide proof.
Over the course of a 20-year enlisted career, the difference in entitlements adds up to $111,663. That averages out to $462 per month. My promotion from E-4 to E-5 yielded a net increase of $159 per month, and my promotion from E-5 to E-6 yielded a net increase of $303 per month, for a combined total of $462. In other words, the lifestyle choice to get married (or have a child) is equivalent to two promotions! Simply put, we reward a lifestyle choice more so than duty performance.